The Worker

Reports from the University of Oregon Gaza Solidarity Encampment on May Day 2024

By K. A. Tyusha

In Eugene, Oregon, University of Oregon (UO) students launched an encampment in solidarity with Palestinians amid ongoing atrocities and more revelations of war crimes by the Israeli government. This initiative follows the lead of Columbia University which has sparked similar actions in nearly 100 universities nationwide and around 20 abroad. UO’s encampment began on April 29, 2024, making it the second in Oregon after Portland State University.

For months, students from the University of Oregon’s chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voices for Peace have been pushing the University’s Board of Trustees to divest from companies that are directly connected to the genocide in Palestine and to the Israeli apartheid. Their core demands simplified include the following:

– Immediate divestment from Jasper Ridge, a firm funding defense contractors like Boeing, Elbit, and Vanguard.
– Implementation of a campus-wide Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign targeting companies complicit in genocide.
– Education for faculty on retirement plan options not invested in the military-industrial complex.
– Formal protections for expressions of solidarity with Palestinians.
– Ceasing academic exchanges with Israeli universities.
– Education exposing the reality of Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

Despite doing peaceful rallies, marches, vigils, sit-ins, die-ins, teach-ins and meeting with President Karl Scholz, the University has disregarded student demands, prompting the encampment. Now in its third day, the encampment has seen growing support, with community members providing supplies and organizing solidarity events. The students intend to stay indefinitely until their demands are met.

As of writing this article, the encampment has been up for three days, and it seemingly doubles in size each day. For now, the students have requested that only students stay at the encampment, and for community members to support from outside the encampment, mostly to avoid the smears of inviting in “outside agitators”. The community has stepped up tremendously, gathering countless supplies for the encampment, organizing rallies in solidarity with the encampment, and standing by to respond if the University tries to call in police to sweep the students.

The University responded in a statement, saying,

“As we have seen over the last week, universities across the nation who have taken a hard stance – including calling in law enforcement as an early response – have seen an escalation in violence, including harm to bystanders and students alike. In keeping with our longstanding protocols, university representatives have been in communication with those participating, outlining relevant institutional policies, and advising them of an existing reservation for that space later this week. Representatives from the Division of Student Life and Safety and Risk Services are committed to remaining engaged with the students with the goal of centering student safety.”

The existing reservation in question is for the Associated Students of UO Street Faire. As of this point it is unclear whether or not this event will occur, but if it does, it will likely mean a full sweep of the camp, meaning the exact violence the University is pretending to be trying to avoid.

The third day of this encampment fell on International Workers Day, and students quickly organized a May Day rally at the encampment itself, inviting union workers and local organizations to celebrate this day together in solidarity with Palestine and with the students worldwide rising up against the genocide. A member of the John Reed Cell of the Party of Communists USA was able to attend and record some video and take some pictures of the event. Other organizations present included Eugene-Springfield Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), Revolutionary Women’s Committee (RWC), Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL), Graduate Teachers Fellows Federation (GTFF) and of course UO chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP) and Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA).

The rally took place in front of the encampment, across the thoroughfare from Lilis Business Center. Speakers included SJP leaders, anti-zionist Jewish speakers, a member of the UO YDSA, a member of the RWC, a United Auto Workers member, and faculty from UO. Speeches spoke of the link between the Palestinian struggle and the labor movement in the US, including all the unions standing up for Palestine and the non-unionized workers facing discrimination around the country for standing with Palestine. They also highlighted the importance of the defense of Palestine in the struggle against imperialism and fascism, and how this is in the interest of the workers. They also reiterated solidarity with Palestinians, with the students who were brutally swept from Columbia University by the New York Police Department, with the students at UCLA that were attacked by Zionist terrorists with chemical and biological weapons, and with the students of Cal Poly Humboldt which were also brutalized and swept by the SFPD among local departments.

A May Pole was erected in front of the encampment and the students spun the ribbons around the pole as speakers explained the symbolism of the May Pole, and how all of these struggles are tied together in the fight against imperialism: Palestine, labor, civil rights, housing, healthcare, etc. Hundreds of students and passersby stood and watched the speeches and the May Pole spinning as a clear historical moment was unfolding in front of them. Eugene had a May Day event on April 28th, but this event was special. It was a May Day event on May 1st at the encampment with both the community and the students.

In the encampment itself, much creativity has emerged. Sign- and shirt-making activities have been held, Jewish and Muslim prayers have been led, educationals have been held, discussions have been had and of course lunch and dinner have been served. Activities end and the lights go out by midnight every day.

The encampment includes dozens of tents now, as well as Palestinian flags and chalked messages and art on the sidewalks which cross through the middle of the encampment. Part of the chalked messages are the names of many martyrs, including journalists, that have been killed by the IOF in Gaza.

The camp also calls back to the Vietnam war protests, with a sign designating the encampment as a “liberated zone”.

Today, the President of UO, Karl Scholz, made a very measly response to the encampment, centering “free speech” and using it to outright reject the students demands, saying,

“Academic boycotts are antithetical to the free exchange of ideas and creation of scholarship, which is the core purpose of the university… The ability to sanction sovereign nations, states, or governments does not lie with universities, but with our country’s government… Divestment, like academic boycotts, run counter to our obligations to our students, our state, and to some degree, our country. The responsibility of stewarding our investments lies with the UO Foundation, who we charge with meeting the needs of the university… I support this vital work and will not ask the UO Foundation to deviate from their responsibilities and approach.”

This statement is incorrect, dismissive and shameful and will certainly mean the encampment will continue. Karl Scholz still has the ability to end the encampment without harm to anyone by meeting the very reasonable demands set forth by the students, but the more probable method he will resort to to end this encampment will be through police violence and institutional repression. History will not forget his actions. History did not forget those that stood in the way of the student movement protesting the war in Vietnam, and as the students at UO have chanted “Just like during Vietnam, students say ‘stop the bombs’”.

The Party of Communists USA will continue to support this encampment and others around the country however we can. We will continue reporting on them for the Daily Worker USA as they develop and change, and we reiterate our solidarity with the Palestinian people and our steadfast opposition to the genocide unfolding in Palestine at the hands of the Zionist Israeli government.

¡No Pasarán!

UPDATE – May 2, 2024: After students communicated closely with the Associated Students of the University of Oregon (ASUO), the ASUO Senate passed a resolution that stands with the protesters’ First Amendment rights to protest and express themselves. The resolution states that there would be no conflict between the ASUO Street Faire and the encampment and called on President Scholz to meet with the students and have an honest discussion with the students about their demands. It also clearly condemned any attempts that might be made to use UO police or Eugene police to break up the encampment. This clears up concerns that the encampment could be swept to make way for the ASUO Street Faire and rebukes President Scholz’s shameful statements from yesterday.

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